IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Meeting policy needs for new data sources: Measuring work-related credentials

By Sharon Boivin

In the late 2000s, rising unemployment due to the recession led policy makers to begin asking questions about the qualifications of the American workforce, such as:

  • How many US adults have an education or training credential that is recognized by employers?
  • How many adults complete at least one year of education or training beyond high school? Do they also earn a credential?
  • What are the employment outcomes for adults with these credentials?

But key data to answer these questions were missing. The federal government had collected data on educational attainment and employment for many years, but did not regularly collect information on the number of adults with work-related credentials—

  • An industry-recognized certification shows that someone has demonstrated he or she has the knowledge and skills to perform a job.
  • An occupational license gives someone the legal authority to perform a job, and typically is also based on demonstrated knowledge and skills.
  • An educational certificate shows that someone has completed an occupational or technical course of study at a technical school, college, or university.

As the Department of Education’s research and statistics arm, IES recognized the importance of filling this data gap so that policy officials could have complete and accurate information for better decision making. Since 2009, the IES’ National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has funded and staffed a rigorous survey item development process under the guidance of the Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment (GEMEnA)

Based on GEMEnA’s work, in January of 2014 the Census Bureau released the first official federal statistics on the number of adults with these kinds of work-related credentials. This year the Current Population Survey and the National Survey of College Graduates are collecting data on certifications and licenses that will greatly expand our ability to analyze their value in the workplace.  In 2016, NCES will field an Adult Training and Education Survey for the first time as part of the National Household Education Survey. 

Rigorous survey item development is time consuming and expensive. By investing in this work now, IES has helped to ensure that policy makers will have high quality data on education, training, and credentials to inform policy for years to come.